Shore Conference Tournament Bracket

SCT Quarterfinal Predictions

A 1-3 start to the season my damage the collective confidence of a team, but the Middletown North boys soccer team knew its slow start just meant it was time to go to work against an unforgiving Shore Conference Class A North division schedule.

Since dropping to 4-6 on Oct. 8, the Lions have won seven straight, extending the winning streak Saturday by beating Rumson-Fair Haven on the road in the Shore Conference Tournament round of 16. Now Middletown North, seeded No. 9 in the tournament, will try to take out top-seeded Shore Regional on Tuesday at Feeney Field to extend the winning streak to eight and advance to Thursday’s SCT semifinals.

“At the beginning of the year, I knew we were going to be good,” Middletown North coach Fred Napoli said. “It was just a matter of how long it was going to take for our guys that didn’t have much varsity experience to mature. Our division is so good and it can wear on your confidence when you get beat, but to their credit, they were resilient and they learned how to play their positions better and better and things eventually clicked for us.”

Anthony Chiaino and Middletown North went from 1-3 to one win away from the SCT semifinals. (Photo by Matt Manley)

Middletown North’s slow start to the season was understandable on several fronts. Junior Ryan Harmon – who scored the lone goal in the 1-0 win over the No. 8 Bulldogs on Saturday – began the season recovering from an ankle injury and had to work himself back into form. In addition to getting himself up to speed, he and the rest of his teammates had to get used to playing with a number of new teammates. Senior Anthony Chiaino and sophomore Liam McGregor both came out for the high school team after playing academy soccer last year.

“We were all kind of anxious when we got off to that bad start,” Harmon said. “We thought it was going to be a bad season with the way things started, but we stayed together and once we started winning a few games, we saw how good we can really be.”

Chiaino has been the stabilizing presence in the middle as a defensive center midfielder since stepping into the formation this season. Not only did Chiaino not play with the team last year, but he began his high school career at Christian Brothers Academy, so he had less of a rapport with his new teammates than most players returning from the academy ranks.

“You could definitely see that the talent was there,” Chiaino said. “We just needed to develop our chemistry and ever since that 1-3 start, we’ve played a lot better and started to see the hard work pay off.”

McGregor’s big moment for Middletown North came in the opening round against St. Rose, when he scored the golden goal to push the Lions into the round of 16. Prior to that win, Middletown North had outscored opponents 15-1 over the previous five games, but it took some heroics from its sophomore to get by the No. 24 Purple Roses.

“I don’t want to take anything away from St. Rose because they played a great game, but I think we weren’t as focused as we should have been,” Napoli said. “They played a really good game and they countered with their horses up top that did a really nice job and scored their goals. But the kids were really focused (Saturday). It was nice to see.”

“It felt good to win, especially on a golden goal, but it was a huge wake-up call for us,” Chiaino said. “We came in pretty cocky thinking we were 5-0 with one goal let up leading into the game and we let our guard down. It was a totally different mindset (Saturday).”

Seniors Dan Cavanaugh and Nick Brennan, junior Elliot De La Rosa and sophomore Ryan Binn have also been key players in driving the Lions winning streak, but they might have to pick up their play with the possibility of junior center fullback Jordan Stratton missing time due to an ankle injury he suffered on Saturday.

“We’ll have to see how (Stratton) is doing and what we’re going to do if he can’t play,” Chiaino said. “I might have to play defense or something to make sure we’re still solid back there. Whatever we need to do, I think everyone is ready to do what it takes because we’re playing a really good team with some really good players.”

Tyler Egnatuk and Toms River South extended the Indian winning streak to 10 by beating Marlboro on Saturday. (Photo by Matt Manley)

Experience Leads Toms River South Past Promising Young Mustangs

While the Marlboro bench and many of its players took exception with the officiating that led to the two Toms River South goals in a 2-0 Indians win on Saturday, the whistle was not the deciding factor, according to either side.

“I’m not going to harp on the two plays,” Marlboro coach Dave Santos said. “They played hard, they put the ball in the net twice and we didn’t. As far as I’m concerned, that means they deserved to win the game. I’m not going to complain about the refereeing. They played hard and they came out on top.”

“I think our experience was a big difference,” said Dylan Parks, who scored the first Toms River South goal. They have a pretty young team and when they came out strong in the first 10 minutes, we didn’t get rattled. They felt like they didn’t get a few calls and we felt like we didn’t get a couple calls, but we just kept our composure and tried to make the most of our opportunities.”

Toms River South withstood an early Marlboro surge during the first 10 minutes and Parks took advantage of a decision by the official to play on in the 13th minute that left goalkeeper James Weinberg and Santos somewhere between baffled and angry. The video of the play shows that Parks made contact with Weinberg as the goalkeeper caught the ball, but the official said he did not see contact on the play that would warrant a foul for contacting the keeper.

“I was lining up the ball and I saw the keeping coming toward me,” Parks said. “I was just trying to get in on it and I guess we hit each other. I was lucky enough to have the ball come down at my feet.”

The Indians scored their second goal after a handball in the box that was initially not called but after a meeting between the two officials prior to the ensuing throw-in, they decided to award a penalty kick to Toms River South.

The win was bounceback of sorts for the Indians players who were on their home field last year when No. 26 St. John Vianney stunned them, 4-2, in the SCT quarterfinals. Now, Toms River South will try to knock off defending champion Freehold Township on Tuesday to extend its winning streak to 11 and reach the program’s first SCT semifinals since 2010.

“It meant a lot to be able to get another game at home,” said Parks, whose team has suffered its only two losses this year at home. “Knowing we were probably going to have to go on the road if we won, we wanted to make sure we kept the streak alive on our home field.”

Marlboro meanwhile was on the wrong end of a pair of whistles after being on the other end last year in an SCT win at Toms River North. The Mustangs benefitted from a goal that was awarded despite video showing that Toms River North goalkeeper Tommy Lynch trapped the ball before it reached the goal line. Toms River North coach Joe Mahon did not blame the loss on officiating at the time, which was the direction Santos took after the loss.

“They were physical and they were very good in the air, that’s for sure,” Santos said. “They sort of reminded me of Freehold Township in that respect, so it’ll be interesting to see how those two match-up because there are some similarities.”

Knight Cap

Two defensive sides duked it out under the lights at Wall Municipal Complex and the No. 5 Crimson Knights survived a challenge from No. 12 Jackson Memorial with a 3-1 victory in penalty kicks.

Neither goalkeeper made a save during the shootout because the three of the shooters did their job for them by missing the target. When Reilly Barcas stepped to the spot with a chance to push Wall to the quarterfinals, he drilled a shot to the middle of the goal that Jackson Memorial goalkeeper Nick Kinzler deflected, but could not keep out of the back of the net.

“We worked on our penalty kicks at practice and I knew where I was going,” Barcas said. “I like to keep it simple when I take mine because, as you saw, there are a lot of things that can go through your mind that can make you lose your focus.”

Wall junior Dan Frisch-Harmon nearly scored at the end of regulation and again in the first overtime period to end the game prior to the shootout. He ripped a 50-yard direct kick just inches over the crossbar as time expired in regulation and hit the crossbar with a header off a service by Zach Ferry. Frisch-Harmon also had a near miss in the shootout, when he hit the crossbar for Wall’s lone miss of the shootout.

The Crimson Knights kept Jackson Memorial striker Mike Schoener from scoring by keeping three defenders back in the formation throughout the game. Wall struggled to generate offense in the first half, but began to possess and advance the ball in the second half.

“He might be the hardest-working player I’ve ever played against,” Barcas said of Schoener. “We knew he was the guys we had to keep tabs on at all times and I thought our defense did an outstanding job of making sure he didn’t get behind them.”

There’s Waldo

Ocean has had some issues finishing goals in some of its high-profile games this season and those struggles crept up on the Spartans again in Saturday’s 3-0 win over Central. Among its 22 shots and 14 shots on goal, Ocean hit the crossbar and a post twice each and also had two goals disallowed – once when Ryan Wells drilled a direct kick into the net before the referee could verify the spot of the ball for the kick, and another for an offside call.

Senior Wadneson Alexis, however, helped take the pressure off of his team by scoring in the ninth minute on a bending 25-yard shot to the far right post. Amid the missed opportunities, the Spartans had the luxury of a one-goal lead, which goalkeeper Yianni Kavarakas preserved with a diving save in the 64th minute.

Wadneson Alexis led Ocean past Central and into Tuesday's quarterfinal against Wall. (Photo by Matt Manley)

Eventually, the Spartans scored two insurance goals to put the game away – one by junior Cosimo Franze on a pass over the top from Alexis and another by freshman Santino Harding on a cross from Franze.

“I like getting the ball and giving it right back to somebody else,” said Alexis, who has evolved from a striker to a distributor out of the midfield over his four varsity seasons. “We have a lot of guys who can score goals, so I don’t feel like I have to be the one to always score. If I get a chance to shoot it, I will, which is what happened (Saturday).”

Ocean will try to find its finishing touch Tuesday in a third meeting with B North rival Wall. The Spartans won the latest meeting, 1-0, on Oct. 16 to clinch the Class B North title by scoring just the second goal given up by Wall all season. Alexis did not play in that game and will look to lead Ocean’s attack past a Wall team that shutout the Spartans in the first meeting between the teams.

“I was disappointed I couldn’t be there and I’m glad we were able to win,” Alexis said. “I was really looking forward to playing again and I’m glad we were able to keep winning.”

Another Pt. III

While Wall vs. Ocean is one matchup of division rivals in Tuesday’s semifinal, the other is the third meeting between Manalapan and CBA. Unlike with Wall and Ocean, Manalapan and CBA did not split the regular-season series and not only was that pair of games one-sided in results, but one-sided in favor of the lesser seed.

Manalapan beat CBA twice by a score of 1-0 this season and the Colts will be out for revenge. Coming into the tournament, both the Colts and Braves were struggling to different degree – Manalapan by going winless in three straight games prior to the SCT and CBA with finishing goals.

Both of those struggles appear to be behind the two teams, with Manalapan beating a quality Lacey team, 2-0, and CBA going off for five goals in a shutout win over Toms River North behind the second hat trick of the season by junior Patrick Kollman. CBA’s win is noteworthy because of Toms River North’s 6-0 win over Holmdel two days earlier, as well as a tight 1-0 loss to Kearny – currently the No. 2 team in the Star Ledger Top 20.

Two of the Braves’ most battle-tested players accounted for the scoring in their win over Lacey. Rocky Garretson and Mitchel Volis – both of whom have been starters in each of the past three seasons – scored the two goals and the defense, led by four-year starter Mike McNicholas, held down the Lions to ensure a third meeting with CBA.

Shore Finds a Way

Shore never trailed in its 3-1 win over Long Branch on Saturday, but the Blue Devils faced some trying moments in the second half after allowing a shorthanded goal by Green Wave sophomore Hernan Acevado that evened the score at 1.

J.T. Kessler, however, once again came to the rescue with the go-ahead goal in the 63rd minute – his 37th goal of the season and 93rd of his career. Dante Montesinos, who gave Shore a 1-0 lead by scoring out of a scrum five minute before halftime.

The Blue Devils are now one win away from reaching the semifinals in Neptune and will have to go through Middletown North, which is on a seven-game winning streak. Shore beat the Lions during an early-season meeting last year.

Pats Survive and Advance

For the first 74 minutes of its round-of-16 match against Colts Neck, Freehold Township looked like it would coast into the quarterfinals. Colts Neck, however, had other ideas, cutting its deficit to one thanks to an own goal and putting the pressure on over the final minutes.

If not for a save by Mike Christina in the final minute, the Cougars would have pushed Freehold Township to overtime for the second straight season. The Patriots barely escaped the opening round of the tournament last year when they needed penalty kicks to get by Colts Neck – the first obstacle in Freehold Township’s run to the conference title as a No. 11 seed.

Saturday’s game between the two Freehold Regional School District teams was the third straight meeting in the SCT and the matchup is a dead heat. Freehold Township’s win on Saturday puts the three-year head-to-head series at 1-1-1, with the Patriots turning the scoreless tie into a shootout victory.

If Freehold Township is to reach the semifinals for the second straight year, it will have to beat a Toms River South team that Marlboro coach Dave Santos sees as a similar team.